An `October surprise' in Israel

AMERICANS aren't the only ones less than thrilled with their choice of candidates. Many Israeli voters, who will cast their ballots next Tuesday, are not taken with either Shimon Peres or Yitzhak Shamir. But Israelis, unlike Americans, now have an ``October surprise'' to help them make up their minds. The leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and the PLO have met and, in effect, urged Israelis to cast a vote for peace. That's a less than veiled plea not to vote for Mr. Shamir's Likud bloc. Likud has taken an uncompromising stand against trading territory for peace and against an international conference as a way of starting the peace process.

Mr. Peres has taken just as unequivocal a stand for both those tactics. He welcomed the Arab statements indicating a willingness to pursue negotiations. After all, his position makes a lot more sense to Israeli voters if there are Arab leaders clearly ready to attend a conference and hammer out a settlement on the occupied territories. Peres's staff has been busy staging such coups as a back-to-back appearance of their candidate and King Hussein on ABC's ``Nightline.'' Such efforts may help shift the debate within Israel, but it's far from clear they'll succeed in swinging the election toward Peres.

Israel's own Arab voters are an important factor in all this. Their votes could determine which major party shapes the next government. The PLO has urged Israeli Arabs to support the country's small far-left parties. Peres hopes to draw some of their votes himself, but is hindered by his own party's part in repressing the Palestinian uprising on the West Bank and in Gaza.

The Egyptians, who have known all along that it mattered who got elected in Israel, were probably instrumental in bringing the PLO to this same conclusion. Though the PLO is still a many-splintered organization, its leadership obviously desires to establish an image of reasonableness and responsibility. And it's not just some of the PLO's Arab colleagues, but the Soviets too, who've been nudging Yasser Arafat along the path of political settlement as opposed to violence.

To sum up, a host of anxious outside observers - including the United States, whose own peace plan is predicated on the steps espoused by Peres - are hoping that Labor triumphs next Tuesday. Will their influence help shape the outcome, or will Israelis recoil from this ``outside interference,'' as Shamir hopes?

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